Difference between revisions of "Marrakech"
Revision as of 14:36, 30 July 2006
Marrakech (مراكش) (also known as Marrakesh) is a city in Morocco.
Most international flights arrive in Marrakech, and plenty of low cost companies now fly to Marrakesh, though some companies arrive in Casablanca and require a plane change for the 45 minute flight to Marrakech. The Marrakesh airport is just 10 minutes from town and small taxis are plentiful. You can fly from several European cities direct to Marrakech on Atlas Blue http://www.atlas-blue.com which is an offshoot of Royal Air Maroc http://www.royalairmaroc.com .
If going by petit taxi, make sure to have the driver use his meter or agree on the price beforehand. As you exit the airport terminal, there is a sign which actually gives you an idea of how much the taxi ride should cost. As to whether you can convince or bargain with the driver to use these prices is another matter however. It really all depends on the number of taxis and potential passengers around.
As it's virtually impossible to obtain local currency outside Morocco, the airport money changing outlets are often useful. Exchange rates are, surprisingly, identical to those in the major towns. The Arrivals hall at Terminal 2 has a money changing outlet and an ATM. Terminal 1 has two money changing outlets in the Arrivals hall and one in Departures. It's a very short walk across the car park from one terminal to another.
Trains arrive from Casablanca hourly, and regularly from other destinations such as Rabat. The train station is located in the recently developed ville nouvelle. Frequent local buses leave from just across the street into the medina and modern tourist area. Petit taxi drivers will also be quick to offer their service, but pay no more than Dh 10 - 15 for this short ride.
Most CTM and private bus lines arrive at the long distance bus station near Bab Doukkala, a 20 minute walk (Dh 15 - 20 by petit taxi) from Jema el-Fna. It's the place to take the buses from the small companies, that go directly to small destinations.
CTM has another small station at the Gueliz, at Zerktouni street. It's better to take them there, because you can buy the tickets for advance (you'll find place) and the buses that leave from Bab Doukala go directly there and stop fo half an hour and even change the bus. Besides, the CTM's offices there are better, and there's no people trying to oush you to their line.
Supratours and Eurolines buses, however, will arrive at the main train station.
Once in the medina, everything can be seen on foot, though you'll be doing a lot of walking. For exploring more of the city, buses and petit taxis are plentiful. Almost all buses stop at Jema El Fna and Place Youssef Ben Tachfine and fares range from Dh 2 to Dh 5 depending on the distance. Important municipal bus lines are:
An alternative and romantic way to travel is by caleche - pronounced kalesh - a small horse-drawn carriage. They can be hired at Square de Foucauld (the small park at the bottom of Djemma El Fna). It's wise to agree a price before setting off.
There is an open-topped City Sightseeing bus that will take you around the outskirts of the city, with commentary provided via headphones (supplied with your ticket) in any of 8 different languages. The best place to catch it is from the coach stops by Square de Foucauld. Tickets cost 130 Dh each and are valid for 24 hours from the time of issue, no matter how many times you get on or off. However, check the timetable carefully, as the buses can stop running earlier than you might think.
While not considered as well preserved as other Moroccan cities such as Fez, Marrakech offers several historical and architectural sites as well as some interesting museums.
Marrakech is home to a large tanning industry, and leather goods of high quality can be bought here cheaply. Check out camel leather items especially - jackets, round poufs, and handbags.
Also of interest would be items made of the local cactus silk, which is apparently made from weaving cactus fibres mixed with a small amount of silk, and dyed with vegetable dyes. On offer are scarves, handbags, tablecloths, bedspreads and throws in stunning colors.
Be sure to wander round the potters' souk, and look for brightly coloured platters and bowls, as well as tagines in all sizes
Remember that bargaining in the souks is expected. It is not really possible to give an accurate indication of how much to start the bargaining at in relation to the initial asking price. Prices are set on a daily, even, hourly basis, depending on how much has been sold on a given day (or period of hours), while also reflecting the vendors personal estimation of the potential client. The souks are often a good reflection of the basic economic principles of supply and demand, particularly with regard to the demand side. If a lot of products have been sold by a particular merchant he/she will raise the price, and may refuse to sell any more products for the rest of that day (or for days) unless the price is much higher than usual. If there are many tourists around prices go higher, and bargaining even small amounts off the asking price becomes quite difficult. In addition, the seller will generally inspect the client, whose dress and possessions (particularly if the potential client sports an expensive Swiss watch, camera, tourist trinkets of obvious poor quality etc) are usually the main indication of how high the price may be set above the usual. However, the potential client's attitude is also taken into consideration.
Taking all this and other factors into account (such as the time of day, day of the week, season etc), initial prices may be up to 50 times or more in excess of what would normally be paid, either by a local, or a patient and well-instructed tourist, especially for more expensive items, such as carpets. Carpets, however, are a very specialized item, and it is necessary to have at least a cursory understanding of production techniques and qualities, and if possible an ability to distinguish between hand-made and machine-made carpets, hand-dyes and the like, if one is not to be utterly duped. Western visitors would be surprised, for instance, how beautiful a carpet can be appropriated by a skillful negotiator inside of 50 euros.
Bargaining is an enjoyable experience for most vendors, and they prefer clients that don't appear hurried and are willing to take the time to negotiate. It is most often actually necessary to give reasons for why you believe the price should be lower. The reasons you might give are limited only by your imagination and often lead to some very entertaining discussions. Common reasons may include: the price of the item elsewhere, the item not being exactly what you are after, the fact that you have purchased other items from the stall/store, that you have built a rapport with the vendor after discussing football or whatever etc etc... On the other hand, if there is little movement in the price after some time, the best advice is to begin leaving, this often has the result of kick-starting the bidding anew, and if not, it is likely that the merchant is actually unwilling to go further below a given price, however absurd. In fact, the best general advice is simply to go to several merchants selling similar products and weigh their collective prices and attitudes. Revisiting a merchant at a later time may or may not allow you to bargain a given product more effectively. In one respect, to return puts the ball back in the vendor's court, as it is obvious that he/she has the product you want at the closest price, but in another respect, if some time has passed between visits, and business has been slow in the interim, and your return to the store is interpreted as a gest of fidelity, the price may miraculously plummet. Many of the vendors can be very charming themselves, and a little charm may also go a long way. Nevertheless, this should not entail conceding to a vendor at an unacceptable price. That, of course would defeat the point. Rather, charm is just another tactic that may or may not be effective in reducing the price of a given item.
It is also important to show a genuine interest for the workmanship of the product for sale, however disinterested you may actually be in what you are buying. This does not, however, mean that you should appear over-enthusiastic, as this will encourage the vendor to hold his/her price. Rather, it is important to project a critical appreciation for each article/object. Any defects are either unacceptable, or a further opportunity to bargain the price down.
Caution should be taken never to begin bidding for unwanted items, or to give the vendor a price you are unwilling or unable (with cash on hand) to pay. Try to avoid paying by credit card at all costs, and in the event, never let the credit card out of your sight, and demand as many receipts as you can possibly get your hands on. There is typically a credit card carbon copy and an official shop receipt. Never tell a vendor where you are staying (unless it is a backpackers), and never tell a vendor how much you have paid for any other items that you may have. Just say that you got a good price, and you want a good price from him/her too. And, above all, never be afraid to say 'No'.
It must also be said that, as for us buyers, not all sellers are actually very good at what they do. A vendor that is completely disinterested or even aggressive is unlikely to give a good price. Move on.
All in all, a good negotiation can be a fun experience. Also remember that Marrakech is the only place visited by such a large quantity of tourists, so prices can be higher than elsewhere, although not necessarily so. If at all possible, look first at the prices and qualities of items in other cities by way of comparison.
The main night market at Djemma El Fna is definitely worth a visit, and the food is priced on menus. In little back streets the ambience is more quiet, although the price is higher and the quality may vary a lot. In the square itself there are some locals such as:
Take care eating the offered food on the main market place Djemma El Fna and the other cheap restaurants. Many of the dishes, including goat heads and bowls of local snails (hot and tasty) may seem too adventurous for the Western palate, but the main problems are salads, which can cause diarrhea.
Vegetarians will find that there are few options outside the ubiquitous Tagine avec Legumes.
For more upscale eateries, and especially for non-Morroccan cuisine, you will have to go outside the Medina to Ville Nouvelle.
Hot sweet mint tea is served in all restaurants and cafes. Note that women may feel more comfortable have a drink or snack at a pastry shop or restaurant as cafes are traditionally for men.
Street vendors offer fresh orange juice (jus d'Orange) by the glass for 3 Dh - although tourists are often charged 20 Dh. Try it with a dash of salt like the locals, but be wary of vendors who try and water the juice down with potentially dodgy tap water.
Wine and beer will rarely be found outside of restaurants catering to tourists.
There are three main zones to sleep: Medina, Guéliz and the surroundings of the city. The Medina has the highest concentration of very cheap hotels and ryads or small palaces.
The Medina is packed with Riads (old grand houses converted into hotels and inns.) While more expensive, these are a wonderful place to stay to get a feel for life in Marrakech. Most can be booked in advance via RiadsMorocco.com.
The budget conscious will have more luck in the streets and alleyways south of Jema El Fna, which are packed with discount hotels offering singles from Dh 50. Popular options with backpackers include:
Marrakech can make a good base for exploring the Atlas Mountains or for organising one to four day Sahara treks. While there are countless agencies on Ave Mohammed V that will organise such tours for those seeking the comfort of an air-conditioned 4x4 and have money to spare, budget travellers may want to check out the Marrakech stalwart Sahara Tours (Rue Bam Marme et Mouahidine, Tel (044) 42-79-77 / 42-97-47 . fax (044) 42-79-72) who offer three day tours from Dh 950. Most hotels in the medina are Sahara agents and will be able to provide information on these treks.
The impressive 110 meter waterfall, the Cascades d'Ouzoud are about 160km away and are well worth a day trip visiting.
Marrakech is connected by air to other domestic destinations such as Agadir, Casablanca (daily), Fes (daily), Ourzazate, Al Hoceima and Tangier. Contact Royal Air Morocco http://www.royalairmaroc.com (Tel: 43 62 05; 197 boulevard Mohamed V) for more details.
Train connections are available from the train station (Tel: 44 77 68; Avenue Hassan II) to Casablanca and Rabat, which connect on with most domestic rail destinations in the country. There is a train hourly during all the day. As always, first and second class differ only in the amount of people and that seats are not reserved in second class, but since Marrakech is the first station, you'll find place if you arrive with time to the station.
Always agree a firm price before work starts. If you can't do this, insist that the operator stops immediately - then go to another (hopefully more reliable) operator to get your design completed.
Most Moroccans are tourist-friendly, so sometimes making a fuss in public can generate unwanted attention for a scam artist, and shame them into backing off.